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Italy: Nuclear? Non Grazie! Berlusconi: Now It's Renewables

Italians have decisively said "no thanks" to nuclear for a second time in a nationwide referendum and the country must now turn increasingly to renewable energy. The vote is a stinging rebuke to Conservative Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who had hoped to revive the country's dormant nuclear industry.

Italians voted in a 1987 referendum to prevent new nuclear power plants. Subsequently, the government decided in 1988 to phase out existing reactors. Berlusconi conceded defeat saying "addio" to nuclear and noting that the country must now develop its renewable energy resources.

The Italian referendum follows Germany's proposal to close all its reactors by 2022 and Switzerland's decision to phase out its nuclear plants as well. As Craig Morris points out at Renewables International, Italy is the world's largest industrial economy to not use nuclear power for the past 14 years.

Italy Sets 23,000 MW Solar PV Target

Meanwhile, the Italian government has adopted detailed new tariffs for solar photovoltaic systems (solar PV) targeting 23,000 MW by 2017.

The new target supersedes the previous 8,000 MW target that was likely to be surpassed this year.

At the end of 2010, Italy officially installed a total solar PV capacity of 3,000 MW. There may have been as much as 4,000 MW of additional capacity that was installed in 2010, but the paperwork has not yet been processed. Consequently, there could be 7,000 MW of solar PV now operating in Italy.

For comparison, Germany has a current installed capacity of 17,000 MW. There is about 2,200 MW of solar PV installed in the USA.

Italy is currently the world's second largest market for solar PV, following Germany. The new policy ensures that Italy will likely maintain this position for the foreseeable future. 

Solar Potentially 10% of Supply

Under Italian conditions, the new solar PV target of 23,000 MW could generate more than 30 TWh annually by 2017.

Italy consumed 319 TWh of electricity in 2010.

If the Italian solar industry reaches the capacity target of 23,000 MW, it alone will be meeting nearly 10% of the nation's electricity supply.

Wind energy currently provides nearly 5% of supply. 

New PV Tariffs Remain Attractive

While the trade press has emphasized that the new policy "cuts" the existing tariffs dramatically, Italian solar PV tariffs will remain among the highest in Europe relative to its more intense insolation.

Though the program in Italy differs markedly from that in Germany, some of the new tariffs introduced can be compared to those now used in Germany.

For example, Italy's new tariffs for rooftops in the size class from 3 kW to 20 kW can be compared to the German rooftop size class of <30 kW. Similarly, the Italian rooftop tariffs from 20 kW to 200 kW can be compared to the German rooftop tariff class of 30 kW to 100 kW, and so on. 

Germany receives approximately three-fourths the insolation of Italy. Thus, current German tariffs would be reduced by an equivalent amount in Italy to provide the same return on investment as in Germany, everything else being equal.

There is a further complication. Quarto Conto Energia, or the fourth energy policy, includes payment of the wholesale rate on top of the feed-in tariff for the remainder of 2011 and for all of 2012. Recently this amounted to an additional 0.07/kWh that's not shown in the tariffs.

Italy's new tariffs remain at least 50% greater than the current tariffs in Germany.

In a forthcoming article, Italy's new tariffs will be examined in further detail.

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